“And I took my staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, that I might break my covenant which I had made with all the people.” (Zechariah 11:10)
You know, I’ve never heard this before. God chose to break His covenant He had made with His people. That’s pretty serious. That makes me think. What does it take for You to break covenant, Lord? And wait a minute! God never breaks His promises! Is that so? Then how can I explain this, Lord?
Well, to start with, a covenant is not just a promise. A covenant is a binding agreement/ relationship between two parties. Yes, it’s a promise. But it’s more than a promise. It’s all about relationship and commitment to that relationship. It’s like the idea of marriage, or at least, marriage the way it was intended to be. Now, there are Biblical covenants that God instituted with Israel for the sake of Israel and with Israel for the sake of all mankind. There are Biblical covenants that God invited Israel to enter into with Him that are conditional upon Israel’s response and there are those that are unconditional because they are supported by God’s character and faithfulness alone. This continues to hold to our invitation today to enter into covenant with You, Lord.
In Zechariah, You were pretty disappointed in those who should have been shepherding Your flock and being a light to the nations. They had forsaken You and broken covenant with You. So here You are allowing the Romans to come in and destroy them, Your very people. In Zechariah, You foretell of the 67 CE Roman massacre coming, You describe the hearts of the High Priests, Scribes, and Lawyers; You tell of the Messiah’s ministry; the breaking of the Covenant with Judah, the price paid by Judas for Jesus; a broken brotherhood; the end of the Nation of Judah after the Second Temple; and another revolt. It’s like You had just had enough. You are long-suffering and You were. You had put up with false worship and idol worship for so long. But enough is enough. Turn or suffer what You practice- life outside of God’s safety and care.
There were a number of God instituted covenants in Scripture. The first was the covenant between Adam. Well, it was actually between Adam and Eve. It was about obedience. Oh, obedience. Isn’t that a little harsh? It’s hard to obey. Well, maybe it is hard to obey. But maybe the whole idea of obedience is actually wholly devoted relationship based on right love and esteem. Here, Adam and Eve would be rulers of the earth and all upon it and live in the presence of God. What was the only condition? Don’t eat from that tree, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Who broke that covenant? Was it You, God? No. It was Adam and Eve. Why? Because what they desired was more important than their relationship with You. What they desired was more to be desired than You, or so they thought. I suppose they forgot to count the cost. Or when they counted, they thought knowledge was worth more than relationship with God. And so the covenant was broken because a covenant is more than a promise. It’s a relationship and they tore it to shattered pieces. And we’re still picking up those pieces today and being cut by them. Is it God’s fault? No. But in His grace and mercy, He continued to extend an even deeper covenant that existed before this broken one.
You introduce us to the covenant You made with Noah, his family, and all mankind. Here, You made an unconditional covenant, that You would never again destroy the earth by a flood. It’s a perpetual covenant until the earth passes away. Now, I think of perpetual as always and forever. But the word used, olam, is until that properly concealed time or vanishing point. Which really makes sense. Because this covenant is in place until Christ comes into His place as King of Kings and Lord of Lords and from that point on into eternity, the world and it’s people won’t need a legal covenant any more because the Covenant Maker will have fulfilled everything and we will no longer be covenant breakers!
So You continued in Your plan to call out a people of Your own and You made a covenant with Abraham. We find it in Genesis 12:1-3. Go where I show you and “…I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.” And I’m thinking, and who am I, right? that if Abram had not left his country and followed You, that You would not have fulfilled this covenant through him. But Abram did leave and did follow and so You ratified this covenant with Him while he slept and You passed through the sacrificed animals because You would fulfill what You said. The fulfillment of Your plans was fully dependent on You. You will give Israel the land by Your power. You will create a great nation out of him through believing Israel and those grafted in by faith in Messiah. All families will be blessed through him by the same faith that will be manifested through the Messiah, Jesus, who comes through the nation of Israel. Here’s the thing. Who are the “all families” that will be blessed by this covenant? Will every person of every nation and tongue stand before the Lord and receive that blessing? Or will a representation of all families, a remnant of each that has chosen to go and follow You be that all that are blessed through this covenant?
Obedience is the heart of the Mosaic covenant. Why obedience? Because obedience shows that we have bound ourselves in relationship with God and His character. The obedience that God set before us also shows that we, like God, care for the well-being of those around us. The law was not given at Mt. Sinai for rules and regulations. It is a test of whether we will turn to You as our sovereign King and submit as Your loyal devoted subjects. We actually have an obligation to You. This is the only correct response to our Creator. You require a response and commitment on our part. Just like the Israelites who answered, “all that the Lord has spoken we will do!” (Exodus 19:8) You ask us for a response. I mean, come on, you can’t be without being. Do you know what I mean? Either you are or you aren’t. God is God no matter what we decide. He will always hold true to Himself. We can depend on that. And He takes the time to covenant with us so that we experience that faithfulness of You. And in covenanting with us, You give us the opportunity to show ourselves faithful. You are not obligated. You just are faithful. We are obligated. Through covenant, we have an opportunity to learn faithfulness from You. I’m starting to think that Your covenants are beautiful personal relationships if we look at them the right way.
Now this is the covenant that really comes into play in Zechariah. Part of this covenant is about You making Israel “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” (Exodus 19:6) Why? So that Your same desire for Adam and Eve and Noah and Abraham could be fulfilled- that Your people would be Your light to the darkness around them. Why were they to be separate and called out? For their own good? Or so that all the nations around would get to see this God they worshipped and the reality of Him alone? It was never about rules and regulations but always about following a God and His ways. By faith we follow and obey because God makes the way. The priesthood itself and the sacrificial system were a bigger picture that pointed to the Messiah and relationship with Him through walking in obedience by faith. This is what the priests and levites and leaders should have seen and been doing. They were supposed to be a light for their own people and a light unto the nations. But they weren’t upholding their part of the covenant.
Hosea shares Your thoughts about this behavior, this heart attitude, “As at Adam, they have broken the covenant; they were unfaithful to me there.” So we see that we can break our part of a covenant. It’s like we just turn our hearts away from what we committed to and turn a different way. Earthly kings did it. They would make a covenant with another nation and if another stronger nation came along, oh fickle nature, they would turn to the stronger nation and make a new covenant, breaking the bond of the old. But that’s not what God does. When You take your staff, even Beauty, and cut it asunder, and break Your covenant which You had made with all the people You are only breaking what has already been broken by Your covenantal partner. You were faithful yet Your partner was unfaithful. You remained faithful through their faithlessness. You continued to bear their unfaithfulness. You gave them every opportunity to return. But there comes a point where they must pay the price for their unfaithfulness. They loose their relationship with You. They don’t get to reap the benefits of Your faithfulness any longer. You never cease to be faithful. But they have removed themselves from Your presence and chosen another and now are freed to fulfill their lusts in another, another who can never be so faithful as You.
Now You didn’t stop there. You also make a covenant with David. Now David was like Abram, a man following after You God. And he was dear to You because of Your dearness to him. And maybe I’m wrong, but because of the demonstrated faithfulness and devotion to You, You instituted a covenant through/with David. You promised both David and Israel that the Messiah (Jesus) would come through his lineage and that You would establish a forever kingdom through Him. You would fulfill this; not David. You would be the faithful One to do this. It’s not dependent on David’s obedience or Israel’s obedience. But the truth is, if David or Israel or John Doe or I want to experience this covenantal relationship, this bond with God through Jesus, well I just better not be going my own way. The only way to experience this relationship is to depend on the Faithful One, to rely on You so much that I love Your ways and need Your ways because I love You and need You.
The shepherds of Israel were like hired shepherds who didn’t have a right heart for their Master or their sheep. God never had to make any covenant with man. He’s not obligated in any way to that which He created. Why would You have to be faithful to us? But in covenanting with us, You promise Your faithfulness to us. We get to experience You according to our faithfulness to You. But whereas You are a Covenant Keeper by nature, we are not, we are covenant breakers. But You know that about us. You’re not surprised. Disappointed, but not surprised. “‘Behold, the days come, says the Lord, ‘that I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel, and with the house of Judah…’” (Jeremiah 31:31) “For finding fault with them, He said, ‘Behold, the days come,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah…’” (Hebrews 8:8) And what will make this covenant better? “‘I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be My people…they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them…” (Jeremiah 31:34) I won’t have to experience You through a priest or a teacher. I and everyone else can experience a covenant relationship with You myself and Your Holy Spirit will change me and teach me. And here’s how that new covenant works. “And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that speaks better things than that of Abel.” (Hebrew 12:24) This covenant of relationship with God wasn’t sealed by animal sacrifice. This offer of a covenant relationship with You is sealed by the blood of Jesus at the cross. The King of kings and Lord of lords became the sacrifice for us. He holds the right as mediator between God and man because He is God and He was man at the same time. And now think of the ramifications of a life in Christ empowered by His Holy Spirit. Here is the One who introduced life and death (the tree of life versus the tree of the knowledge of good and evil) from the start. Here is the One who has always held Life before us in Himself. And here He is again, offering back that Life in Himself. So, what will I choose? Will I choose to enter into the covenant of Life with You? Or will I choose to be a covenant breaker and live after my own ways? All I know is, I can’t give myself life. I can only find it in You. I want to be a covenant keeper. I want to live in covenant with You all the days of my life. And in the safety of Your covenant, that means I get to live into eternity with You and I can’t think of anyone I would rather be with more.